Nine weeks ago I was kicked off Instagram.

“Kicked off?”, you might ask. “Wow, considering the type of behavior that’s permitted on Instagram, you must have done something really horrible to get yourself banned. What was it?”

The answer? Nobody knows. And Instagram/Facebook is not talking. All I know is that I somehow twice ran afoul of Instagram’s flawed “suspicious activity” detection algorithm within the span of two months. I managed to get my account restored the first time, but now when I try to log in, all I get is a message stating that my account was deactivated for violating their terms of service.

Umm, what violation? All I did was post photography pics and like photography pics. I was dumbfounded.

So I clicked on the link they provide if you think your account was deactivated by mistake. From there I filled out a form and then received the following automated email from some weird facebook address (everything in this process is automated, which is the crux of the problem):

Thanks for contacting us. Before we can help, we need you to confirm that you own this account. Please reply to this message and send us a photo of yourself holding a hand-written copy of the code below:

(code withheld for privacy)

Please make sure that the photo you send:

– Includes the above code hand-written on a clean sheet of paper, followed by your full name and username
– Includes both your hand that’s holding the sheet of paper and your entire face
– Is well-lit, and is not too small, dark or blurry
– Is attached to your reply as a JPEG file

What a ridiculous hoop to have to jump through, but what choice did I have? I was angry and I let it show in this admittedly testy reply that I sent along with the silly photo they demanded:

This is the second time in the last two months that your faulty algorithm has flagged my perfectly normal activity as “suspicious.” In both cases, all I did was access my account from my laptop and like a few posts, and that was enough to get my account frozen, only this time you took it a step further by accusing me of violating your terms of service and suspending my account. I would LOVE to know how I violated your terms of service–please explain that to me. In the meantime, the ridiculous photo I was required to take in order to regain access to my account is attached. This is the last time I will jump through these hoops to retain my account. If you fail to fix your flawed algorithm and this happens again, I will be done with instagram–and maybe facebook, too.

Four days passed without hearing anything, but it gave me time to cool down, and I decided to follow up with what I felt was a more diplomatic message:

I am still waiting for you to correct your error and restore my account. I know my last email was a bit testy, but I am understandably upset that this has now happened to me twice in the last two months, with this time being even worse because I somehow ran afoul of your algorithm’s terms-of-service-violation detector. This makes absolutely no sense to me because I have one of the most mundane accounts on Instagram. All I do is post pictures from my photography hobby and ‘like’ pictures from other photographers–that’s it. I don’t engage with anybody, I don’t post needy influencer videos trolling for follows, and I don’t post (or like) opinions about anything. My account is strictly about photography and nothing else. And I certainly haven’t flooded the service–in 5.5 years I have posted fewer than 500 photos–that’s an average of 7 to 8 posts per month–some people post that much per hour. So I really don’t understand why I was flagged and I would really like it explained to me. Thank you.

Another eleven days passed without a single word from Instagram/Facebook. Although I no longer really cared whether I got my account back, it occurred to me that there are links from my web site that are now broken, and that the “About the Author” page in my physical books directs readers to my Instagram account, which now does not exist. So I followed up with another message:

It has now been over two weeks and I still do not have a resolution or an explanation as to what term of service I could possibly have violated. As I alluded to in my previous emails, anyone who spends 5 minutes looking at my account will see one of the most mundane, low-use accounts on Instagram, with ZERO suspicious activity.

But it’s not just about my Instagram account. You are damaging my brand as a published author. I have physical books out there pointing to my Instagram account on the “About the Author” pages. Now any readers visiting my account are getting a broken link. If you refuse to restore my account, or worse yet, if you give my Instagram ID to somebody else so that my readers are directed to a stranger’s account that I have no affiliation with, you will do further damage to my brand. Please fix this.

Another two weeks passed. Still nothing, which prompted the following terse message:

It has now been more than a month since I sent my photo and I still have not received any response. Is anyone even looking into this?

Another 19 days passed with no response from Facebook/Instagram, so I resorted to a twitter thread. I knew this was pointless because neither Facebook nor Instagram has a customer support account on twitter (big surprise), but what did I have to lose? So I repeatedly tagged every related account I could think of. (Side note: whenever you tag Instagram with a complaint, you get spammed by multiple accounts claiming they know somebody who can get your account reactivated, a clear indication that the accidental banning issue is widespread if scammers have latched onto it.)

Twitter Thread
[Dec 19]
It has been 7 weeks since @instagram deactivated my account for some phantom violation of their terms of service. I jumped through the hoops @Facebook demanded (pic of myself holding paper) to get it restored but they never even had the decency to respond. @InstagramComms @Meta

As I repeatedly tried to explain to @facebook in followup messages, anyone who spends 5 minutes with my @instagram account would find one of the most mundane accounts on the entire platform. All I do is post/like photography pics. The idea that I violated anything is laughable.

It was the 2nd time I had run afoul of @instagram’s flawed ‘suspicious activity’ algorithm–I was able to get my account restored the 1st time. In both cases, my apparent crime was accessing my account via my laptop and liking a few pics. @Facebook doesn’t care. @InstagramComms

The only reason I even want my @instagram account back at this point is so links from my website/books are not broken. Even if I manage to get it back, I’ll probably never again interact with it for fear of once again running afoul of @facebook’s ‘suspicious activity’ algorithm.

Honestly, @instagram is no longer a good platform for photographers anyway since they @facebook-ified it. I’m seeking an alternative to share my photography, but it would still be nice to have an active insta account so that my already sold books aren’t pointing to a dead page.

The fact that neither @instagram nor @facebook have a customer service/support account, nor any real way to contact them, shows how few craps they give for their users. So I am fully aware that this thread was just spitting into the wind, but it felt good to vent anyway. /fin

[Dec 28]
Addendum: I’ve resorted to filling out the “account was deactivated by mistake” form every few days until either @instagram or @Facebook finally has the decency to respond. I won’t hold my breath. @InstagramComms @Meta @MetaNewsroom

I’ve done the last item above about a dozen times now, but I’ve never again received the automated email like I did the first time I filled out the form, which leads me to believe that my ID was flagged from any further communication. So I’ve come to the realization that I’m never getting my account back, and that it was never even under consideration, which led to the following final kiss-off message:

No response in well over two months now. I’m beginning to think that my initial email in which I expressed justified anger got me thrown into some sort of Instagram jail where any attempt at further communication is automatically ignored. Petty and childish, but not surprising. Have a nice day.

And that’s that. I’m not broken up about not being on Instagram anymore–as I mentioned in my twitter thread, Instagram is no longer a good outlet for photographers anyway since they Facebookified the platform–but I am irritated that my books are now pointing readers to a dead account (or one that may be given to somebody else at some point). Facebook/Instagram doesn’t care. They don’t have to. When you have a monopoly, you’re free to treat your consumers like garbage because it has zero impact on your bottom line. It’s no wonder that there’s a growing movement in Congress to break up big tech firms like Facebook.

I will probably never know why I was banned from Instagram. I don’t even think Instagram knows. It was a decision made by a poorly-written algorithm, not a human being.

The moral of the story: If your Instagram account gets deactivated for some phantom violation of their terms of service, don’t even bother trying to get it back. You won’t. No amount of messages, tweets, filled-out forms, or silly photos of yourself with your name and info on a piece of paper will make a difference. You’re essentially calling a disconnected phone number–there’s nobody listening on the other end.